It may seem like a giant leap backwards to be talking about phone sales when we have all the modern tools of XML, browser-based applications and Internet connectivity. But, in fact, the use of all these modern tools is exactly what I'm going to talk about.
So how, you might ask, do phones fit into this?
First, let me tell you what I'm not going to talk about. I'm not going to talk about people calling an order in to a sales representative (even some annoying automated one).I'm not going to talk about Ubiquitous RFID where cell phones read RFID tags to make purchases.
What I am going to talk about may possibly be the next major advancement in direct-to-consumer sales: bar codes. Or, more precisely, 2D symbols.
Sound like another great leap backwards? Not so.
Today, many of your customers have Web-enabled camera phones that can allow them to connect directly to your website by reading a 2D symbol.
This isn't necessarily a new idea; there have been several attempts to use both public do main and proprietary bar codes to provide customers with information about a particular product or service. None of these previous attempts has been particularly successful because they were either ahead of their time (not enough camera phones), because they were proprietary or because they were not ubiquitous enough.
A more successful program currently uses QR Code on advertisements, primarily in Japan, to give customers access to information or special deals. Some Japanese cell phones come from the factory able to read QR Code. The limitation, again, is that not all cell phones can read QR Code and there are not yet enough companies using it to make it really attractive.
What is coming onto the scene, however, is the use of 2D symbols as a social networking tool. And companies could leverage that to their advantage.
The latest wrinkle in social networking is called ShotCode. While this is not an endorsement of ShotCode, the concept behind it is worth examining.
ShotCode (www.shotcode.com) is a proprietary—yet free-to-use—circular matrix symbol that encodes a unique identity code. Software to read ShotCode is a free download to a Web-enabled phone. Individuals can go to the ShotCode web site to create their own personal symbol (identity code) that they can put on business cards, clothing or even their bodies (there is a photo of a ShotCode tattoo on the site). Scanning the symbol will direct the Webphone to whatever web site the symbol's owner designates, such as a MySpace page. The ShotCode database is merely a pointer to the users' URLs.
Corporate users can also use ShotCodes —and some companies and sales people are already using them—but there is a fee for commercial use.
The unique concept here is the blending of social networking, web-enabled cell phones, personal web pages and 2D symbologies. The decoding software and use of the system is available to consumers at no cost (other than carrier-imposed fees). Leveraging all of these technologies at the same time, and making the service available free to consumers, should foster broad acceptance of the technology by consumers, addressing one of the current limitations of trying to use bar codes or 2D symbols to connect consumers to companies.
While not all companies can benefit from such direct access to their corporate web site, the concept alone is worth considering and, unlike some future Ubiquitous RFID, it's here today.
Bert Moore is a 20-year veteran of the AIDC industry. He is director of IDAT Consulting & Education, Alpharetta, Ga.